Learn about the new Miss Universe and her journey through natural hair.
As New York Fashion Week gets off to a start, and "Texture on the Runway" inches closer and closer (only one day away!), we caught up with Miss Universe, Leila Lopes of Angola, to talk about Fashion Week, her hair, her history and where she sees herself going from here.
Keep a lookout for her in NYC, she will be taking the fashion and acting world's by storm — and maybe wearing a little bit of Kanye's collection on the way!
Talk to me a little about what you did before Miss Universe.
Before Miss Universe, I was studying business management, and then I decided to compete for Miss Angola.
You just decided?
Well, I wanted to get into it because pageant queens have so much power and influence. They have a voice. I decided to compete because I thought that, as Miss Angola, I could change people’s lives in my country. That’s why I decided to compete for Miss Angola, and luckily, I won Miss Universe, which is even better! [laughter]
No kidding! Now you get to represent and speak for your country and women everywhere on a world stage.
Let’s get in to your hair story. Are you natural?
Well, I used to have an afro. My hair was natural and it used to be curly. When I was 18, I relaxed it, and then I kind of regretted it because I lost my curl and I didn’t like wearing my hair straight. So I decided to give up on relaxing and learned how to go back to my hair naturally. But then, when I decided to compete for Miss. Angola, they said that I looked too young with curly hair, and they said that it would be better if I relaxed again. So I did. Now my hair is relaxed. I relax it about once every three months.
Interesting. How is your hair holding up from being natural to relaxed back to natural and then back to relaxed?
I have very fine hair, so I have to be very careful with it. I use products that are very appropriate for my hair. It gets dry because of the weather in New York, so I need more moisture. I use a lot of CHI products. I started using them when I was down in Brazil for the competition. The products actually just work a lot better for my hair.
Speaking of the competition, there was a lot of talk about you wearing a topknot instead of wearing your hair down. Was that your decision?
Yeah, it was my decision! I remember when the girls, when they saw me wearing my hair up, they were like, “Are you going to wear your hair up doing all the competition?” And I said, “Yes.” And they said, “Wow, you’re brave! Even for the swimsuit?” And I said, “Yes!”
I just wanted to do something different.
Of course, and it obviously worked! So what's the natural hair attitude in Angola?
In Angola, normally when we are 18, we decide to relax our hair and then we regret it. It’s a tropical country, its hot, you are always sweating, and your hair gets curly easily, even if it is straight. The roots will get curly and then everything gets puffy. Normally all the girls I know regret it when they relax, so we are all going back natural.
Do y’all transition back, or big chop?
Some people do just chop it all off, but most people just wear braids until it gets more natural because it is a hard process, you know? Letting your hair grow back natural is hard because all the hair is susceptible to break.
It definitely is, and it takes a lot of confidence to rock the natural look.
Well, you do have to be confident about your hair. You have to get the right products because, even though you decide to wear it natural, it has to be healthy to be beautiful. So with the right products, we all can get beautiful hair. I believe that you should feel comfortable with your hair.
My favorite thing about my natural hair was that there were so many options. I could wear it down or I could wear it straight. Of course, you have to use a lot of product to make it stay straight for a long time! [laughter] It works though. As long as you know how to play with your hair, it works. I used to be more creative when I had an afro, but now that it is straight, I only wear it down or in a ponytail. I can’t braid it, or anything else.
Right. So when your hair was natural, what were your go-to styles?
Well, I used to really like to braid just one side. Sometimes the left side, or sometimes the right side — sometimes both sides and left the middle out. Everybody used to say that my hair was beautiful.
Do you have nay plans to go back natural after the Miss Universe reign is over?
Yes I do. I prefer my hair natural. The relaxer that I’m using isn’t too strong, so when I wash my hair, I see the curls coming back and that’s really cool. I know that I can go back natural when it is all done.
So what is your hair routine?
Well I wash my hair on Saturdays, on the weekends, on my off-days, those are my washdays. I deep condition every Thursday because, with all the heat that I’ve been using, I need to condition my hair.
When I go to a hairdresser, I take my products with me, especially the CHI Shine Treatment. It is like my secret. I take it everywhere.
Also, I use a reconstructer because the ends of my hair, I have to cut them every single month. So this helps to reconstruct the health a lot.
Sounds like you’re going to have a pretty easy time going back natural if you’re taking such good care of it right now.
Yes, yes, that’s the goal.
So, going back a little bit to the request to relax your hair. Do you think that in the pageantry world, if contestants were to wear their natural hair, that they would have a more difficult time winning?
No, I don’t think so. My organization in Angola, they sat with me and they said, “You, with the curly hair, you look too young.” And, it’s true. I’ve seen pictures of me with the curly hair and I really do look too young. So, they asked if I would straighten it and use some extensions. And, it worked. It worked to make me look older, unfortunately.
But, you’re #teamnatural all the way!
Yes, yes I am!
Brenda [Leila's PR agent]: I’m always fascinated by talks like these! So, sorry to interject!
No, no, go ahead!
Brenda: Well, I have this friend down in Atlanta, and she has been going to a lot of these meetups, and there really is this movement toward going back natural. My friend is all natural now. She hasn’t had a relaxer in years! She shows me all these pictures of her friends and says, “Girl, she just went natural, too!” And all these women have the same styles that Leila is talking about, you know, transitioning with the braids. But my friend, she just chopped it all off. She had this real cute little boyish cut. It is so cool!
Yea, we call that the TWA – teeny weeny afro.
Brenda: Really? Oh that’s cute!!
Leila: Yeah, it is something that is really getting a lot bigger. All these women are going back natural. In Angola, it is really common. Everyone regrets their decision to relax because you want to go to the beach and get your hair wet, but they can’t because it is relaxed. We just prefer wearing our hair natural.
That’s great! What advice would you give women looking to go natural?
Even though I always hear a lot of women say, “Oh, my hair. It is an afro, but it is not curly. I don’t have the beautiful curls!” Well, there are a lot of products out there to help give it the small curls or the big ones, to help define. You just have to love your hair and find the right products for it.
Of course, so going off on a little big of a tangent, I watched your vlog post about how excited you are for Fashion Week and you were especially excited about seeing Kanye West’s collection. Are you a fan?
Yes! I also love Sean John’s line. It is good for me to see famous people getting into the fashion industry and doing well because not everybody can do it, and they are doing great! I saw some coats from Kanye’s past collection at Paris Fashion Week and I’ll say, he is doing great! Kanye West is a businessman.
Definitely. So you’ve pledged to help combat HIV during your Miss. Universe reign. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Yeah, this is my platform, and it used to be as Miss Angola also. I’m very proud to work for this cause. Now that I’m Miss. Universe, I’ve really been learning a lot more. It is good to see people really focus and tackle this disease.
Is HIV something that is prominent in Angola? How did you become associated with this?
Yes, it is big in Angola. Now it is even worse. I was working for this cause before any of the pageantry stuff.
Yesterday I worked with an organization in New York. I took the public test to encourage other people to do the same because I believe it is really important that people get tested, and know their status. It is better for people to find it soon. The sooner you find out that you have the disease, the easier it will be to fight it.
Especially as a woman, it is good for me to talk to other women because we all want to be mothers. It is good when we can get the test so that we can save our babies.
So what’s next for you?
I won a scholarship from New York Film Academy, so I’m thinking about acting classes. I really want to stay in New York for a year longer. I’ll take acting classes and also think about a modeling career because I’ve never been a model.